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Football: 30 players on 10-hour drinking spree, all dressed in army fatigues.. weren't they just asking for trouble?; FOWLER: BRAND NEW CLUB, BUT THE SAME OLD STORY.

Byline: Ian EDWARDS

DAVID O'LEARY read the riot act to his Leeds stars just hours before the latest embarrassing let-down by his players.

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale confirmed last night that O'Leary issued a special plea before the squad's fancy dress party.

O'Leary left the 30-strong members of the players' Christmas bash in no doubt as to their responsibilities to the club - before they set off in army uniforms on a city centre pub crawl.

With faces painted and toy guns in their hands, Robbie Fowler and his new team-mates began a 10-hour drinking session which ended up in a police interview room.

Even the presence of five security guards from the Elland Road staff to monitor their pub-crawl was not able to prevent the embarrassment.

Fowler may well have been the victim of an unscrupulous sting involving a freelance photographer and a taxi driver, and Leeds may well be outraged at their player being arrested for what appears little reason.

Nevertheless, Fowler's arrest has dealt another serious blow to Leeds United's public image.

O'Leary made a special plea for the players to be on their best behaviour and although he is understood to be happy that Fowler was not guilty of any wrongdoing, he is resigned to seeing another black mark chalked down against his club.

"There is no doubt that the manager made it perfectly clear to the whole squad that they have a responsibility to behave correctly," said a club spokesman.

Fowler's latest brush with the law - just two weeks after escaping his 'goldfish bowl' existence on Merseyside - is a huge blow to the striker.

He has told friends that he is upset at this latest flashpoint, particularly because he feels he has done nothing wrong, and yet his move to Leeds has now been tainted by the incident.

The player was hoping to leave behind the controversy that seemed to follow him around Merseyside, and earned him a reputation as a controversial figure.

Since he exploded on to the scene as the youngest player to score 100 goals for Liverpool, he has been no stranger to headlines for the wrong reasons.

Two attacks in Liverpool apart, he has also been in hot water for making gestures to Graeme Le Saux and taunting Everton fans with a line-sniffing routine.

Fowler was also angered recently when a newspaper tried to suggest he had been out late-night drinking while on England duty, when, in fact, he had been in a restaurant until 9pm having a meal. Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale has indicated that he is fully aware of Fowler's innocence, and that no action will be taken by the club against the player.

But the former Anfield hero must be praying that this is not the cue for another series of incidents, particularly as he is determined to make a fresh start at Elland Road.

The incident is also a huge embarrassment for O'Leary. He told his players that if they want the "flash lifestyles and flash cars of a professional footballer," they have to accept the responsibilities that go with it.

Leeds players argue that they have a right to a private life away from the football pitch and that cannot be denied.

But was it really sensible for them to be out in fancy dress, especially in army uniforms given the sensitive nature of the war in the Middle East? And was it really a good idea to draw attention to themselves in such an obvious way when they have a responsibility to Leeds United Football Club?

Would it not have been more sensible for them to hire a private function room and party amongst themselves? Or even use the Sutra bar that Rio Ferdinand part-owns?

David O'Leary will be asking those same questions today.

CAPTION(S):

THE BAR; BREAK FOR THE BORDER: Where Fowler was drinking; THE HOTEL; HOME: Oulton Hall, where Fowler has been staying; THE GARAGE; FLASHPOINT: Where the alleged incident took place; O'LEARY: Warning
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 13, 2001
Words:661
Previous Article:Football: O'LEARY IGNORES RANGERS.
Next Article:Football: Jimmy is Chelsea's late hero; Chelsea 1 Newcastle 0.


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